Wednesday, May 7, 2008

The Religious Psychology of Green

Green is no longer the exclusive domain of liberal intellectuals or the politically correct. Where other brands need to create an experience, the essence of a Green brand is already widely engrained in the popular imagination.

Green’s mass appeal has caused more than a few observers to make religious comparisons. This comparison is not without merit. Green’s popularity is at least partially attributable to the fact that it is seamlessly compatible with the teachings of most religions. In the east, religious traditions like Taoism emphasize harmony and balance. Veneration of the natural world is at the heart of Shinto. Traditional Aboriginal cultures are emphatic about the importance of their relationship to the earth and its creatures. As one Australian Aboriginal writer explained, “Our spirituality is a oneness and an interconnectedness with all that lives and breathes, even with all that does not live or breathe.”

Buddhism offers an inherently Green philosophy. “Caring for the environment is a natural part of the Buddhist path. The Buddha encouraged us to understand more deeply the underlying unity and interconnectedness of life. Values such as simplicity of lifestyle, sharing with others, taking responsibility for one’s actions, and compassion for all living things have always been at the heart of the tradition.”

As explained in the Big Green Jewish Web Site, "[The] moral imperative sublimely reflected in Isaiah, the Psalms, the Ten Commandments, impels us to be engaged on a perpetual process of repair of the world (Tikkun Olam)."

In the Islamic tradition, Green is more than a sacred color. In Malaysia environmentalism has spread throughout the intellectual and activist communities. And in the UK a group of Muslims have declared June 3rd "Green Islam Day." A conference scheduled for the same day will review Muslim environmental efforts in the UK and around the World.

Even the Christian right, traditionally Green reticent, is showing signs of change. As reported by Bill Moyers of PBS, a group of 86 respected evangelical Christian leaders from across America initiated a campaign for environmental reform. And as reported on MSNBC, Southern Baptists are now fully committed to Green.

In the western world, the similarities between the dominant religion and Green run deep. Like historical Christianity, the new Green religion grants dispensation, sells indulgences, and mitigates guilt. Buying into the Green movement is psychologically similar to receiving the rites of communion or confession. Through the symbolic medium of a host or penance, we are cleansed of our sins. Similarly, when we make a Green purchase, we are paying to assuage our guilt. Carbon credits are like the selling of indulgences by the pre-Lutheran Catholic Church. And our efforts to restore order can be traced to the rites of sacrifice which lead back into the primeval mists of man's beginning.

Many of the mythological motifs of Christianity have parallels with Green. The Garden of Eden is like the earth before the rise of man. Heaven is envisioned as a place where we live in harmony. And our environmental footprints bear similarities to original sin. The language of redemption and salvation can be transposed with words like sustainability and responsibility. And the apocalyptic end times can be construed as a toxic environment within a hostile climate.

Despite widespread acceptance, some religious conservatives seem to perceive Green as a threat. It is as though they fear that Green may replace God, and they may be right. Perhaps it is more accurate to say that religious notions of a compassionate, interdependent universe espouse an inherent ecological sensitivity.

Green responds to some of the same deeply embedded psychological needs as religion. In our secular world, it is easy to see why Green captivates widespread attention. Green’s appeal transcends cultures and demographics. The Green movement is now a universal belief system. This explains why companies are clamoring to be identified with Green. For marketers and business owners Green psychology is like the Rosetta Stone. If understood correctly, it can help decipher buying behaviors and even provide keys to one of the largest markets the world has ever known.

No comments: